Friday, March 25, 2011

Actually, my mom is white--so do you accept me now?

I realized recently, as ironic and hypocritical as this is going to sound, that I find security in being able to tell other people that my Mom (Mom=American mom; Omma=Korean mom) is White, as though I will be more readily accepted and/or my perceived status will somehow be elevated once the listener knows this fact. It's as though I believe that since I am Asian having a White mom is necessary in order to legitimize my status and existence in the eyes of other Americans.

What made me realize this was a recent interaction I had with someone that asked me if I lived here in America. I proceeded to proclaim that not only do I live here in America but that I am a U.S. citizen, that my father is a retired naval officer, and that one of my brothers is currently serving in the army. I also made a point to mention that my Mom's first husband died in the Vietnam War, yet I felt compelled to clarify that she was not Vietnamese but Caucasian American. (And of course, all the meanwhile, I was also feeling guilty, conflicted, and purposefully misleading by conveniently omitting mention of my Omma, yet also feeling--or rationalizing?--that it would not be beneficial, helpful, or understood if I opened that can of demons in this particular conversation.)

I know, appallingly hypocritical on so many levels.

Yet although I felt ashamed that I went out of my way to mention all of this, I must admit that I also felt comforted that I was able to flash my "White Mom card" like credentials to silence this guy's doubts about my "American-ness."

But ultimately, this all reveals that I am just as influenced by prejudices and biases as anyone else when it comes down to it. It also reiterates how uncomfortable I still am, even as I approach 40, with my own Korean heritage. There is still a shame and embarrassment that I experience regarding the undeniable fact that I am Korean. Deep down it's still as though I think, believe that White is the superior skin tone and genetic inheritance, and that if I myself cannot look or be White then at least I can claim "White-ness" by proxy through my White mom and White family.

I am sobered and humbled by the ugliness that this look in the mirror has revealed.

Even with the birth of our son, I find myself inwardly consoled that he is not 100% Korean, but that he is also Mediterranean and Caucasian, or White. And then, I shake my head and scold myself for having such a thought.

Yet, conversely enough, there are other moments that I am compelled to reject my "White roots" and flash my "Korean card." Those moments are more rare, but increasing in frequency, especially now that I have reunited with my Korean family.

In a similar way, I find both relief and discomfort as an Asian woman married to a White man. Just as being able to claim my White mom makes me feel more accepted or somehow elevated, being able to claim my White husband does the same. However, on the flip side I also fear being perceived as the stereotypical "foreign Asian bride" who "connived her way into a White man's heart to escape an oppressive and empty life in my home country," accompanied by the matching stereotype that my husband married me, because he has some sick fetish for Asian women and their perceived image as exotic, compliant sex objects.

Overall, basically, I see that I am susceptible to doing what I loathe--when it is convenient or beneficial I find myself flipping back and forth in staking my claims to one or the other to manage my insecurities and legitimize or elevate my perceived status among others based on prejudices and stereotypes that pervade in American culture. (Wow, that's a mouthful of a run-on thought...)

It's ridiculous, I know. And it cries out hypocrite. But it's honest.

I know folks would say, and I even say it to myself, "C'mon, Melissa, you're over thinking it. Really you're both, you're not one or the other. Just let go of the perceived stereotypes and embrace the whole of who you are. Don't waste your brain space concerned with how others might see you."

Well, folks, I haven't quite figured out how to do, be, embrace both. And I have a hard time shaking off how others perceive me, because in reality their perceptions affect how they interact with and treat me.

So, for me at least, the overused cliche definitely applies--much easier said than done.

Although, I suppose one could argue that just by living each day I cannot help but do, be, embrace the different parts of who I am. But it's less a dilemma of acknowledging the different parts of who I am than it is of merging all these fractured pieces into a whole that, although may appear whole to outsiders, continues to feel painfully and irrevocably divided and broken...


il panettiere... said...

This makes me think about being cut in two. Painful, confusing, questioning....

ms. marginalia said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's a thoughtful look at yourself, and your discussion highlights some very important, morally problematic ground where racism and adoption collide. It sucks that you feel the need to justify yourself to anyone, and yet it happens: as a woman, a wife a mother, an adoptee, and a person of color.

You remind me of things I am able to take for granted being White, things that I need to think carefully about myself and not live with assumptions about ANYTHING.

eddoster said...

Enjoy the fact that you're gorgeous, you have a gorgeous family, and nobody can take that away!!! Life continues to change, and people who count will always view your amazing spirit more than whatever kind of hair-day you're having....know what I mean?

Mila said...

Thanks, eddoster...i shared this w/the main purpose of providing insight into the complexities of the transracial adoptee life & psyche...and your sweet comment to "Enjoy the fact that you're gorgeous, you have a gorgeous family..." I find so ironic, because it taps into those very complexities..."gorgeous" never applied to me growing up...and I'm having to redefine what family is...

The Declassified Adoptee said...

Women's issues and race are much, much deeper than a bad hair day. If people weren't so preoccupied with oppressive standards of beauty, "bad hair days" wouldn't exist. Women would just be beautiful however their hair is; period. :-)

Melissa, I think it's really important that you speak about your experiences and I am glad that you do.